What is Yukari, you ask? It’s Eucalyptus! Though probably not the kind you are thinking of (ie Koala food).
So then, what kind of eucalyptus am I talking about?
Well, that is a difficult question. There are over 700 species of eucalyptus in the world and the majority of them are found in Australia. Only a few species can be found outside of Australia naturally. In this weeks arrangement, I worked with Eucalyptus Cinerea (I think – there are over 700 species people!) nicknamed “The Silver Dollar” because of its round silvery leaves.
This was the first time I ever used Eucalyptus in an arrangement. The first thing I noticed about this plant is its smell. It is very fragrant. It is has a sweet herby smell that comes from its sap. Eucalypts are part of the gum tree family so you best be prepared for some stickiness when handling this plant. Its leaves become sticky when you crush them, the smell might stay on your hands for a day or so.
The biggest difficulty with this arrangement was how to use the Yukari. When it comes to large branches with a lot of leaves, I don’t know how to use it. DoI leave it as is? Do I strip the branch of most of the leaves? Sometimes it is hard to know. Sometimes I too cautious. I don’t want to make a change I don’t like. I am in awe of my teacher’s confidence. She’ll rip off leaves without flinching. She knows what will look good even if it’s not “perfect.”
And that was my biggest lesson from this week. Don’t worry about it being perfect. Nature is rarely perfect. Don’t be afraid of cutting a leaf of a branch short or ripping off a bunch of leaves and disrupting the ones you leave behind. A singular branch might be bigger than the flower but give the flower room to blossom in the arrangement especially if it’s something as extravagant as a Dahlia.
Ahh arrangement #2. This was my second week of lessons and the first time I would be alone with my new teacher. Well not totally alone. I was wasn’t the only student studying under her. Sometimes, there are women there taking lessons or finishing up when I arrive. Time is very flexible.
I arrive after work and I sit and chat with my teacher and others students over black coffee and numerous treats that the teacher lays out for us. I haven’t figured out exactly where all the food comes from but I think most of it is omiyage (souvenirs usually in the form of individually packaged treats) from her travels or her students. At 88 years she is still quite active.
This process is both a source of stress and relaxation. Part of me wants to go in, do my thing, and get out, but the coffee and chatting helps break the ice and forces me to speak Japanese. At first, I’m always tense and quiet but soon I relax and jump into conversations or answer questions.
I think this a part of traditional culture in Japan; giving treats and snacks that is. I have been given tea and coffee at meetings with my schools, the fire department, and even in a Chinese medicine shop while waiting for my friend. It’s polite, thoughtful, and slows you down. In the West, you are often on the go and straight to business. Taking time to sip tea and nibble on a sweet treat doesn’t take away from business or your goal but instead gives your time to others and maybe unconsciously shows your commitment and respect to them. It’s abstract and roundabout but most of the Japanese traditional culture is like that – especially ikebana.
Don’t believe me? Ikebana at its core is meant to be appreciated and admired, often during tea ceremonies, which can take hours. It reflects nature with all of its beauty and imperfections. A Western bouquet is full of the brightest and most beautiful flowers and greenery. Ikebana embraces the imperfections of nature. Nothing is symmetrical, you will rip and cut leaves and branches to create a sense of space. You imagine how wind would shape the growth of plants (this is sooooo difficult to get right). You must take your time to examine your flowers and create a small scene of nature inside a tiny ceramic world. There is no one single answer but you must around stand certain key elements that make an arrangement good.
As a beginner you kind of flounder around trying to figure out how you are supposed to put it together. You are taught a few basic lessons but then you are on your own. You must take your time and a try and use the lessons you were first taught. The real lesson begins after you finish your attempt and yes I meant attempt. There have been many times I had no idea how to use a certain flower or branch. Those times I usually ask the teacher to teach me the best way to manipulate the branch (its usually a branch). Your teacher will then observe your arrangement and make changes. Sometimes the changes are small and other times it barely resembles what you first created … like this:
Next week I delve more into what actually makes an Ikenobo arrangement and some of the lessons my teacher has taught me. See you next week!